“Glamping” With Jean Buchanan

For Jean Buchanan, sewing is not just a hobby and career, but it also may very well be her destiny. She’s been sewing for over 50 years and comes from a long line of sewists. Her great-grandmother was a tailor of men’s suits, and her grandmothers, aunts and mother have all sewn and quilted through the years. Jean first learned to sew from her mother-in-law, and she’s never looked back. With a little help from Sailrite®, Jean’s taken her talent to the next level and made a name for herself in the process.

After five decades of sewing children’s clothes and stuffed animals, plus clothing for herself and her husband, Jean encountered a project that she had never attempted before and one she never thought she would stumble upon in her lifetime. But always being an adventurous sewist open to new ideas and experiences, she took a cue from her daughter to try out a different kind of DIY, which would lead her to her largest project yet. 

“One day my daughter brought me a southwestern printed tarp and asked me to make her a visor for her T@B 320 trailer. It took many more tarps and three attempts to get the patterns tweaked — it fit the T@B pretty well.” 

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One of Jean’s latest sunshade designs on a TAB camper.

If you’re not familiar, T@B (or TAB) is a brand of trailerable camper with a sleek teardrop design. These charming, pint-sized campers blend European design with Ohio Amish craftsmanship for cozy living on-the-go. After Jean finished her daughter’s project, she found that these campers were perfectly complemented by her custom sunshades with their petite, visor-like design. Not only was her first sunshade good-looking, but it also functioned as a way to protect the camper’s occupants from the sun and rain while maintaining convenient portability for those looking to get up and go.

Spurred by her first success, Jean decided she enjoyed the work and wanted to continue the process. The next step was to make efforts to reach a larger customer base and make sure she could streamline her sunshades for more efficient sewing. She first began by creating a shop on Etsy (an e-commerce site focused on handmade or vintage items), based out of North Olmsted, Ohio. She later launched her own website and enlisted the help of a professional engineer to create a dependable design for the T@B 400 trailer — and success! A small business was born.

But when your business revolves around sewing, you need a dependable sewing machine to carry you through your toughest assemblies. So with this new business resting in her capable hands, Jean decided that none of her work could be completed without a heavy-duty industrial sewing machine to sew through multiple layers of fabric. The hunt for such a machine was what led Jean to Sailrite in the first place.

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Fabricator in tow, Jean is ready to tackle any project.

She explained, “I chose the Fabricator® Sewing Machine after looking at many industrial machines because it was advertised as a small awning shop machine. I read reviews that were positive concerning the machine and watched videos. Based on what I read and what I watched, I decided it was the right one and I have not been disappointed.” 

With her husband, Clyde, by her side, Jean has expanded her creations and has now launched her own website to showcase and sell her unique camper sunshades worldwide. With a customer base reaching as far as Spain, Germany, Poland, Switzerland and Canada, it’s hard to deny the growing popularity of these adorable additions. Not only are these unique sunshades a way for campers to express their creativity, but they’re also a way for Jean to utilize her adept sewing skills for a practical cause.

She was happy to explain the painstaking steps that go into the creation of the TAB sunshades, as they’re tailored to the requests of each customer. First, each piece of fabric and webbing is cut with the Sailrite® Edge Hotknife, then a convenient carrying bag is sewn, followed by a reinforcement of webbing to the places where the visor pole begins and ends. Next comes the construction of the sleeve for the pole followed by the main fabric assembly. Each part of the process that requires sewing is done using the Fabricator Sewing Machine — and the results speak for themselves.

Here at Sailrite, it gives us great joy to be there every step of the way to help make things a little easier. “Not only do I use the Fabricator Sewing Machine and the Sailrite Edge Hotknife, but I just started using some of Sailrite’s 300 denier polyester outdoor fabric [Odyssey]. The quality and support are outstanding! One could not go wrong using any of their products. I especially love the magnetic sewing guide and zipper feet for sewing keder rope!”

With a thriving business to attend to, what lies ahead for crafty creator Jean? She explained, “I plan to go back to regular sewing when I can no longer physically sew these sunshades. But who knows, I’m always ready for a challenge. My daughter is full of ideas for me.” And although her daughter does not share her passion for sewing, she helps with the business as a public relations assistant and is always ready to bring Jean more ideas to practice her sewing on. 

At this point in time, Jean’s future is wide open, but regardless, she is confident that she and the Fabricator can tackle anything that may come. We can’t wait to see what she creates next!

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Jean’s ingenious designs make “glamping” possible.

The DIY Life: One Man’s Creative Story

When amateur woodworker and DIY enthusiast Bruce Steinert realized his La-Z-Boy® recliners were looking a bit worse for wear, he set out to have them reupholstered. To his shock and disbelief, the lowest quote from an upholstery shop cost almost as much as the original purchase price of the recliners. Being a handyman with a “can do” spirit, he began researching ways he could reupholster the recliners himself. Along the way, he learned a lot about sewing, the upholstery process, and what it takes to tackle a new hobby. He’s shared his story with us.

Over the years, Bruce had completed many woodworking projects, both big and small. He built a workbench and router stand for his workshop as well as smaller home projects and repairs. Two of his most complex and impressive woodworking jobs were for a local church. He built a 12- by 16-foot, 4-foot-high stage that disassembled into 4- by 8-foot sections for storage. He also constructed a 5-foot-diameter oak pulley wheel to restore function to the church’s bell. Other projects, including electrical work, plumbing and window sash replacements, added to his skill set.

Bruce credits his woodworking and other crafting experience for his seamless transition into sewing and upholstery work. Having previous DIY projects under his belt also gave him the confidence to tackle a new hobby. “For most DIY projects, I find there is a stage in the project when you can’t go back and your only choice is to forge ahead to completion. It’s a great confidence builder. Online videos are a great learning tool.”

Prior to his La-Z-Boy upholstery project, Bruce had done some basic sewing. He sewed curtains, baby clothes, and had made clothing repairs. At an estate auction, Bruce and his wife purchased a Morris chair (an early 20th-century version of a recliner) at a great price because it had no cushions. They tried to make do with a purchased cushion, but it wasn’t ideal. The chair was such a great find that they didn’t want to settle for a mediocre store-bought cushion.

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The store-bought lounge chair cushion (left) is no comparison to Bruce’s well-fitting, custom-made cushions (right).

So, Bruce set out to sew a custom-made cushion for the Morris chair. While researching how to sew a cushion, he came across Sailrite’s inventory of how-to videos. By watching the Sailrite marine cushion video and applying his pragmatic approach to learning new skills, he was able to create a great looking chair cushion. It was this successful project that convinced Bruce he could handle the recliners. “Making new cushions let me practice with a larger project that needed the fabric pattern to match, new foam and zipper plaques. That gave me the confidence to tackle the recliners.”

In preparation for reupholstering the recliners, Bruce knew he’d need a better sewing machine. His old machine couldn’t handle more than two or three layers of fabric. He needed a sewing machine with more power and slow speed control that could handle thick fabric assemblies. When working on his Morris chair cushion, Bruce had watched many of Sailrite’s free project videos featuring the Ultrafeed. Watching the Ultrafeed handle the various sewing applications in the videos is what sold Bruce on the machine.

With his new Ultrafeed LSZ-1 at the ready, he again turned to Sailrite’s project videos. He watched the “How to Reupholster a Recliner Chair” video and followed it step by step. “The patterning techniques were all applicable. My process mirrored Cindy’s process in the video.” He made sure to take careful notes during the recliner disassembly process as he knew this would help him smoothly reassemble all the pieces. “When you are about to start removing the fabric, think through how the pieces were probably assembled at the factory since you will want to remove them in reverse order. There were 47 pieces for each of our chairs. Start to finish I completed both chairs in about four weeks but did not work nonstop.”

Not only did Bruce follow Sailrite’s recliner upholstery video, but he also watched the accompanying “How to Make an Upholstery Work Table” video so that he’d have a nice, elevated workstation on which to reupholster his recliners. With his woodworking know-how in his back pocket, Bruce took the Sailrite work table design and improved it by making his table collapsible for convenient storage in his workroom.

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Bruce’s collapsible work table. He stores the legs, fabric and hardware pieces inside the table so everything stays together.

“I highly recommend building the stand if you don’t have a suitable work surface,” Bruce advised. “My workshop is fairly small and storing the stand was going to take up a lot of space. It needed it to be compact, yet easily reassembled.” Bruce modified his work table to make the legs detachable. The legs, trunk liner fabric and a bag of various hardware pieces are stored inside the collapsed table. The top and bottom of the table latch together for a secure hold. “From the original 9 square feet of floor space occupied, it’s now less than 3 feet.”

Now that Bruce has successfully reupholstered his recliners with his new Ultrafeed, he’s also used the machine to repair a tear in his computer bag. He used Sailrite’s video on how to repair a tear in a sail and adapted the technique. On the same bag, he replaced the worn out faux leather handle with real leather, also using his Ultrafeed. “It is a very well made product and simple to operate. It makes sewing truly a joy.”

One thing he learned along the way during his sewing DIY was to take it one step at a time. “Don’t let the scale of a project dissuade you from giving it a try. Reupholstering a chair is just a lot of little projects done in a sequence. Tackling these projects not only gives a great sense of accomplishment but is also a wonderful stress reliever. Put down the phone, turn off the TV and get started.”

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Bruce enjoying the results of his hard work!

What’s next for Bruce? He doesn’t have any future sewing projects planned, but as he put it, “one never knows what might happen along. Long term, I have a desire to restore classic cars in my retirement. I’m sure there will be opportunities to upholster and make door panels for those. Who can say, maybe there is a second career out there for me.”